Thursday, May 6, 2010

Amnesia, Chapter 12 - Oasis


I was beginning to rethink my notions of heaven and hell.

By definition, vampires must surely be damned. A cannibal feeding on others like itself must certainly be soulless; condemned to a living hell, or a perpetual purgatory at the very least.

But as I gazed at Bella Swan’s peacefully sleeping face next to mine on the pillow, I knew that this must be a heaven of the most glorious kind. How could I be cursed and feel something so profoundly blissful as this? Of everything that had happened the past 24 hours, Bella’s forgiveness was the most important, and unexpected, gift I could have received. I wondered if she would ever fully understand what that meant to me, or how she saved me. Because without that gift, I have no doubt that my eternal damnation would have been assured.

I stroked her hair gently and she stirred, snuggling into the soft blanket I’d wrapped between us. I could still feel the length of her body pressed against mine, its heat seeping through the fabric and warming my lonely skin. I had fantasized about making love to her so many times that the past hour nearly seemed just as unreal to me. But the peaceful euphoria that lingered in every cell of my undead being was evidence that it had happened; not to mention the slumbering form of the angel at my side.

I grinned at the memory of the deliciously naughty things she had done to me. Bella definitely had a devilish streak, and it nearly drove me mad with desire. Yet nothing could compare to my angel’s trusting face when she had spread her wings and let me inside. Plunging into the white-hot heat of her sex was beyond any sensation I could have imagined, and I had imagined a lot. I focused on her reaction more than my own, and it was the only thing that kept me from losing every ounce of self control I had. Her virgin’s cry of pain snapped me back to the reality that my ecstasy was far from fun for her.

And thus began a tightrope act of epic proportions seething within my body. Bella would never know the precarious balancing act I performed, trying to love her without hurting her further. Any careless action on my part would bruise her tender skin like a peach, or worse. I would not allow “worse” to happen. Every move I made was maddeningly measured and restrained. I knew that what I perceived as gentle might feel rough to her impossibly fragile human form. And so I made love to her as if she were made of glass, never pressing my full weight on her, never thrusting too hard or too fast, and certainly never sinking my teeth into her neck no matter how violently the blood lust wracked my body when my aching cock finally exploded inside her. She would never know the sweet relief the sound of her giggles gave me when I tore through the down pillow instead of her skin. These struggles were mine alone to bear, and I would bear them gladly, willingly. There was no sacrifice I wouldn’t make for the saving grace lying next to me.

A grumbling noise interrupted my reverie, and I grinned when I realized what it was. It had been quite awhile since Bella had eaten lunch, and even in her sleep, her stomach was beginning to protest. She was sure to be ravenous when she awoke.

I gently extricated myself from her encircling arms, instantly missing their warmth as I scooted out of the bed. She frowned slightly, and I whispered in her ear that I wouldn’t be long. I pulled a clean tee and jeans out of my duffel bag, got dressed, and headed downstairs.

A quick perusal of the kitchen proved my assumption that it had been stripped of any perishables. I remembered passing a convenience store on the way downtown earlier, so I slipped out the front door and sprinted in that direction through the cool night air. I wasn’t sure what Bella liked, other than her favorite soda. When I got to the store, I grabbed a couple of sandwiches, some chips, snack bars and drinks. The kid behind the counter stared at me suspiciously as I quickly paid for the items. I wondered if he recognized the supposedly deceased Edward Masen, or if my complexion looked especially pallid under the harsh fluorescent lights overhead. I made a swift exit and ran back to the house before he could question me.

Though I had tried to be quiet, the sound of the front door must have awakened Bella. She appeared suddenly at the top of the stairs, running halfway down them and then stopping short, staring at me for a moment. She looked a bit disoriented. She was wearing my flannel shirt, which hung loosely over her slight frame in such a way as to send a strange thrill of caveman possessiveness through me.

“Hey, I’m sorry I woke you,” I apologized as I flipped the switch to a small alcove light in the entryway. Apparently all the downstairs lamps had been removed by my enterprising relatives. “I thought you might be hungry,” I told her, waving the grocery bag in explanation. I began to look through it and list the contents. “Let’s see…I got you a chicken salad sandwich and a veggie sandwich, some regular chips and some barbecued--I used to love those--oh, and some---” I broke off in surprise as Bella flew down the stairs and threw her arms around me, knocking the grocery bag to the floor. “Are you okay?” I asked her, holding her tight and stroking her hair.

She nodded as I lowered her feet back to the floor. “I got scared when I woke up and you weren’t there,” she whispered, the fright apparent in her huge jade eyes as she looked up at me. “I kind of forgot where I was for a minute.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, giving her a tender kiss. “I thought I could sneak out for a few minutes without waking you. I didn’t mean to frighten you. I shouldn’t have left you here alone,” I frowned, irritated with myself for having been so thoughtless.

“It’s okay,” she replied, sounding a little more like herself. “I just panicked for a minute…it was stupid. I’m fine, really.” She picked the grocery bag up off the floor. “Thanks for doing this for me. It was really sweet of you,” she said, smiling shyly. She suddenly seemed a little embarrassed, perhaps thinking of how intimate we had been just a short time ago.

“Well, your stomach let me know in no uncertain terms that it had some needs that were not being met,” I grinned, taking off my coat and tossing it on the nearby sofa.

Bella’s eyes grew round. “Was my stomach growling in my sleep or something?” she exclaimed, her face turning even more scarlet.

“Just a little,” I assured her. “I thought I’d better have something ready for you when you woke up.”

She thanked me yet again and sat down on the couch, pulling out the chicken sandwich and ripping off its cellophane wrapper. She took a healthy bite and made a satisfactory sound, alleviating my worry that the convenience store food might be inedible.

“Does it taste okay?” I asked anyway, just to be sure.

“Yeah, it’s not bad, actually,” she smiled. “Of course, I’m so hungry I might have eaten my own hand pretty soon, so….” she teased. I must have been staring at her again because she blushed and demanded, “What is it about me chewing and swallowing that fascinates you so much?”

I was a bit taken aback. I hadn’t really given it much thought, other than the obvious fact that her gorgeous mouth offered so many sensual possibilities, many of which I’d been lucky enough to enjoy. “I don’t know,” I began slowly. “I guess I find it sort of comforting, watching you eat. It reminds me how alive you are…that you survived.” I couldn’t bring myself to finish that thought.

She took another bite of sandwich and chewed thoughtfully, then broke open the bag of barbecued chips, unleashing an aroma I once loved. Now it paled in comparison to Bella’s unique essence…her skin, her hair, her blood, her sex…the most tantalizing cocktail ever to bewitch my vampire senses.

“Would it have been so bad?” she finally mused, munching on a potato chip.

“What do you mean?” I asked. What could she possibly be saying?

“If I weren’t human anymore. If you had turned me…if I were like you now.” Her voice was blasé, but her eyes were dead serious. I stared at her, dumbfounded, as she calmly opened her soda and took a hefty swig. The sound of her gulping the fizzy liquid suddenly took on an exaggerated importance to me. How could she be so cavalier about giving up her life? And for what--to be with me? I wanted no such sacrifice from her. I couldn’t shoulder that burden.

“Well, first of all, you wouldn’t have ended up like me. You would have ended up like Lauren Mallory,” I said roughly. She blanched, her eyes darting up to meet mine, but she continued eating. My chest felt tight. “You don’t know what you’re saying. You don’t want to be like me.”

“It doesn’t look so bad from where I’m sitting,” she replied evenly, apparently unaware of the irony of her words as she enjoyed her wholly human repast. “To have superior strength and speed, to never be weak or vulnerable, to never get sick or grow old or die.” She gave me a long look. “All of those things will happen to me, you know.”

My heart felt as if it were wrapped in a tourniquet. Could vampires have heart attacks? Because Bella was most assuredly trying to give me one.

“But you will also go on to have a life, Bella. College, a career…a family. I would never want to keep you from any of that.”

She abruptly stopped eating and gaped at me. Finally, maybe she was beginning to see some sense.

“You want me to do all of those things without you?” she finally asked in a incredulous tone. Tears welled in her eyes.

Oh, God. The thought of giving her up made my chest constrict so painfully I could barely breathe. “Of course that’s not what I want,” I asserted. “But I want you to have all the normal things in life that you deserve. You’d only grow to resent me if I took away your choice to have them.”

She shook her head slowly. “None of that means anything without you,” she whispered.

“You say that now, but eternity is a long time, Bella,” I reminded her. When I thought about untold years stretching before me without her at the center of them, I didn’t want them. “I would give anything to go back in time somehow and be human for you…with you. To wake up next to you every day, and grow old with you. To touch you and not make you shiver. To hold you and keep you warm while you sleep.” I reached out and brushed away the tear that rolled down her cheek.

“I don’t shiver because your skin is cold,” she told me, running her fingers along the back of my hand, which still held her face. She let them trail slowly down my forearm like hot molasses, and improbable goose bumps managed to raise on my stone flesh in response.

“I know,” I whispered. “But you should.” I let my hand drop from her face, and she looked disappointed. She went back to her meal and chewed silently, while I ingested everything about her: The way she hooked her hair behind one ear, one rebel lock refusing to obey and falling into her face. The way the muted light from the hallway cast long shadows from her eyelashes onto her freckled pink cheeks. The way she tilted her head back and swallowed loudly when she took a long drink from her soda bottle. I closed my eyes for a moment and felt the heat emanating from her body. I inhaled her delicious, torturous scent deeply into my dead lungs. I didn’t want her to change. I loved every human thing about her.

“So how could you have changed what happened?” Her voice startled me and my eyes flew open to meet hers. I looked at her quizzically, and she continued. “How could you have stopped me from ending up like Lauren… and made me like you instead?”

It was as if she could read my mind, and deliberately chose to ask the one thing that would upset me most.

“I couldn’t have,” I answered roughly. “I wouldn’t have known how. I didn’t have any idea what I was doing---I didn’t even know what I was, I told you that. It’s a miracle your father came and saved you when he did. I don’t know if I could have stopped otherwise.”

“But you did stop,” she replied matter-of-factly. “You looked so… sorry. So guilty.” Her eyes drifted as if she were picturing that night in her head.

I stared at her in shock. “You remember that?”

“Of course,” she answered, finishing off her sandwich and dropping its wrapper back in the grocery bag. “I remember everything now.”

My heart began to throb slightly, picking up its pace as I wondered what she had been thinking and feeling in those horrible moments. “You must have been so terrified of me,” I croaked miserably.

To my amazement, she let out a small laugh. “That’s the weird thing,” she said, her eyes still lost in her memories. “For one long moment, I wasn’t afraid at all. All I could hear was your heart beating, so loudly…in the same rhythm as mine. It felt like it was mine…like we were linked, somehow. I felt completely connected to you, and it was…perfect.” She sighed, almost a melancholy sound, and then focused her eyes upon mine. “That sounds crazy, doesn’t it?”

I was stunned speechless. It simply couldn’t be. How could she have felt the same connection, the same oneness, that I had? She’d been near death, and I was the culprit. Yet somehow, improbably, she had felt the same intense bliss that had consumed me and haunted me ever since that night.

Red stained her cheeks and she looked down when I didn’t answer her. “Okay, I guess I am crazy,” she muttered.

“No, you’re not,” I rushed to correct her. “Well, if you are, then you’re not alone. I’ve never been able to forget that feeling…like every hunger or thirst I’d ever had was completely satiated in that moment with you. I was lost in the desert…you were my oasis.” I reached out and touched the side of her face, caressing her cheek. “Why do you think I couldn’t stay away from you? I knew I should. I knew I had no business going anywhere near you after what I did to you. But what we shared was so strong, I could never shake it. I’ve been living to try to recreate it, somehow, without hurting you again. You can’t imagine the guilt I’ve felt, knowing that the best moment of my life nearly ended yours. It never even occurred to me that you had been anything other than terrified of me.” I gazed at her in wonderment and ran gentle fingers down her beautiful face. “You were my angel.”

She shook her head slowly. “I’m not an angel, Edward, any more than you’re a demon. I’m flesh and blood, and so were you, once.” Her eyes were intense as she gazed at me. “You still are. You’re my flesh…my blood.” She cupped my face in her hand, running her thumb along the edge of my chin. “It’s not fair,” she whispered. “I want you inside me, the way I’m inside you.”

She leaned in, her lips close to mine, her breath warm and enticing on my face. “How would you do it?” she murmured, her lips brushing mine. “How would you change me?”

I let out a ragged breath into her mouth, she was so close. “At that moment…when you were near death…you would have had to drink my blood,” I explained. “Your human body would have died, and my vampire blood would have made you immortal.”

She appeared to be letting this sink in as she thoughtfully stroked my jaw. “Just like in the movies,” she finally said.

I let out a wry laugh. “No, Bella. It’s not just like the movies. It’s not glamorous. It’s brutal, and it’s forever. There’s no going back from it.”

“Forever is where you are. Don’t leave me behind, Edward,” she pleaded, kissing me again. This time, her tongue teased my lips and worked its way into my mouth. The warm wetness was delicious, and my mouth accepted it greedily. My hands had minds of their own, combing through her hair, massaging the back of her neck, running up her thigh. I slid my fingers under the flannel shirt and over the curve of her hip, gently squeezing her soft, warm flesh. Her hips tilted toward me at my touch, her knee sliding between my thighs. I stroked her leg up and down, and she moaned softly into my mouth, kissing me more deeply. She pushed her hand under my t-shirt, right up to my chest, over my heart.

“I want to feel your heartbeat again the way I did that night,” she said, her eyes large and beseeching. “Inside me. Consuming me.”

I pulled back and gave her an incredulous look. “There’s no way to do that…not without hurting you. I won’t do that to you again, Bella. You don’t want me to.” God, how I wished I could read this girl’s mind. She simply couldn’t be suggesting what it sounded like she was suggesting.

“On the contrary, I know better than anyone else exactly what I’m asking you,” she replied, her hand pressed over my laboring heart, her lips relentless in their tantalizing closeness. “You have to consider it, Edward,” she insisted. “Maybe not today. But someday. I don’t want us to lose each other. I want us to be the way we were in that moment…indivisible.” The drug of her breath in my face was beginning to make me woozy. “I gave you my life…give me yours.” She kissed me and pressed her body against mine, pushing at my t-shirt until I finally yanked it over my head and let her hands blaze trails of desire over my reluctant skin.

“You know I’d gladly give you my life and more, Bella. But if you think I’m going to take away your humanity, then you are crazy,” I growled in frustration. “You know I want that closeness with you again more than anything. We just have to find it another way,” I said adamantly. I pulled her tighter to me, wrapping my hand in the silky tangles of her hair. “I thought we did, almost,” I whispered, hoping that the intimacy we’d shared earlier was enough for her, at least for now. I couldn’t bear to think of anything more.

She nodded and pushed her thigh between my legs. I slid my hand up the smooth, bare skin of her hip under the flannel shirt, over her perfectly round ass and between her cheeks; then down to the hot folds of flesh between her legs. Her back arched and her legs parted, letting my fingers explore further. Her breaths were short and hot in my face, and I inhaled her scent deeply, relishing the burn that still shot down my throat every time. “You said you want me inside you,” I reminded her, pushing the tips of my fingers against her soft, wet opening. “I want that too…you can’t imagine how much.”

She kissed me, and I responded hungrily, her taste intoxicating me as much as her smell. I felt her hand fumble with the opening of my jeans. I reached down, unbuttoned and unzipped them quickly and yanked them free of my stiff and ready cock. I gently grabbed her thigh from between my legs and pulled it around my hip, pressing her naked groin against my shaft. I rubbed it against her until it was covered in her wetness, and then slowly pushed the head against her opening. She let out a tiny gasp, her eyes wide at first. But then she tilted her hips toward me, letting me in a little, her breath escaping as I pushed gently upward. She moved her hips slowly, bit by bit, taking more and more of me inside her in a sensual rhythm that I matched. She moaned softly as I began filling her more and more with each movement of our bodies toward each other. Our eyes seared into each other’s the entire time, forging the unshakable bond that we both craved so desperately. Finally her lids closed and she threw her head back, tilting her pelvis flush against mine and pulling my cock in as deep inside her as it would go. I groaned loudly, fighting the urge to bury my teeth in her delicate neck. I pulled my flannel shirt off of her body and let my eyes do the ravaging instead. God, she was beautiful, her thighs encircling my hips, the tips of her nipples brushing my chest, her mouth hovering inches from mine. I couldn’t keep my hands off of her, slowly stroking every curve until her body began to undulate against me in response. I watched, enraptured, as her hips began to move slowly, rhythmically against mine; letting my cock out an inch…then two, then more… and back inside again, as her body got used to the sensation. My own hips began to work to meet hers, thrusting up against her gently, the sound of my skin slapping against hers a strangely potent turn-on.

“Edward, you feel so good,” Bella sighed, sending a thrill through me. I realized that having her on top, controlling things, was ideal. I didn’t have to worry about being too rough, or crushing her under my steel limbs. Instead, I could fully enjoy the incredible sensations of her tight, wet heat stroking my rigid member as she rode me. She grabbed the sofa on either side of my shoulders for leverage and began grinding in earnest, slamming her body harder and faster against mine, moaning loudly and sending me into an erotic trance as her breasts danced in front of my face. I looked down at the sight of my cock disappearing inside her over and over, and I knew I couldn’t hold out much longer. And this time, I wasn’t coming unless she came with me. If she wanted our intense connection back, she would have to find it with me this way instead.

I slid my fingers between her legs and began stroking the button of flesh that made her cry out with ecstasy whenever I touched it. She gasped and grabbed my shoulders, slowing her rhythm and letting me work her clit between my fingers. “Edward, please,” she sobbed. I couldn’t tell whether it was a plea to stop or to keep going.

“Come with me, Bella,” I whispered. “I’m not doing this without you this time.” I grasped her hips in my hands and pulled her to me, thrusting up into her as deep as I could. I repeated the motion, faster, until she moved in rhythm with me once again. My hands slid over her perfect round cheeks and between her legs, massaging her, feeling my cock ramming into her and nearly ejaculating at the sensation. I moved my fingers back to her clit, stroking it rapidly until her breathing came in short gasps.

With my free hand I grabbed her face and willed her to look into my eyes. “Come for me, Bella,” I commanded. “Let go.” She whimpered softly and her eyes closed as our bodies reached a fever pitch. And then, at last, I felt the glorious release of her orgasm as her muscles gripped my cock like a vice. Her first contraction was long and unrelenting, squeezing me so hard that I let out a wild cry like an animal in heat. The pleasure was so intense, it was nearly unbearable. I felt my balls draw up like a canon ready to fire; and with her second contraction, I exploded, shooting deep inside her as my hips jerked uncontrollably into hers. Like beasts unleashed we came together, bodies writhing, our cries of ecstasy echoing loudly through the nearly-empty house. Her arms wound around my neck, her hands clutching my hair fiercely as her body shook. I held her close and buried my face in her hair, biting my lip until I tasted blood. Better mine than hers, I thought.

We sat entwined for a long moment, spent and panting, as our bodies calmed and our breathing slowed. I was afraid to speak and spoil the exquisite sound of her breath in my ear, the feel of her lips grazing my earlobe. She drew back at last to look at me, swallowing me whole in the sea of her eyes. I was drowning in her, and never wanted to come up for air.

“I love you,” I whispered helplessly, even though those words didn’t begin to encompass what I was feeling in that moment.

“I love you,” she replied, her eyes drifting down to my lips. I watched her lashes fall and her lips part as she leaned in to softly kiss me. She pulled my bottom lip between hers and sucked on it gently, then licked it with her tongue. My pleasure soon turned to panic when I realized what she was doing---lapping up the bit of blood that remained where I’d bitten my lip.

I seized her face and pulled her away from me, fear filling me as I glared at her. “What are you doing?” I snapped, giving her a slight shake. “Don’t you ever drink my blood, Bella. Do you hear me?”

She stared at me in surprise. “Why not? I’m not dying, Edward. One taste of your blood isn’t going to turn me.” She stroked my hair repeatedly as if trying to placate me.

I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to calm down. “Let’s not do this right now, okay?” I sighed. “Let’s not ruin this moment.”

“That’s not what I was trying to do,” she said quietly. “I just want…you. Completely and totally. I’m not afraid of you, or what could happen. I trust you, no matter what.” I began to wonder if she was trying to convince me, or convince herself.

“You already have me, Bella. I couldn’t belong to you any more if you had me tied to you with a leash.”

“Ooh, now there’s an interesting idea,” she said with a tiny grin and an evil eyebrow.

“Ms. Swan, I’m shocked. I had no idea you were into such---” and before I could finish that tantalizing thought, a ringing sound from my crumpled jeans pierced the quiet room. I groaned and guessed, “With timing like this, it’s got to be--”

“Alice,” Bella and I said in unison, then laughed. She reluctantly pulled herself off my lap and the sudden lack of warmth shocked my cold body. I hated watching her put my shirt back on and cover up the gorgeous form I loved so much. I pulled up my jeans and reached in the pocket, answering my insistent phone before it would go to voice mail.

“Yes, Alice?” I sighed into the receiver after seeing her name in the caller ID display.

“Hello, my darling brother,” she trilled. “How goes it? Isn’t post-coital bliss grand?”

“It is, much more so than your timing,” I said with an aggravated laugh. “You know, I hope that when X-rated visions pop into your head, you have the decency to avert your eyes. Mentally, that is.”

“Of course,” she laughed. “You think I want to see my brother and my best friend making hot monkey love? I’d rather spork out my eyes, thank you very much.”

“Good. So what’s going on in Forks? Have you found any signs of other vampires yet?”

“We didn’t even have to look, Edward,” Alice said, her voice grim. “It happened again. Another body was found this afternoon near the river. A middle-aged male. When he never came back from his fishing trip , his wife called the police. I’m getting really tired of my precognitive radar being off like this, you know. I’d rather save a life than know when you and Bella are getting busy.”

“Trust me, I’d prefer that too,” I assured her. “So are Emmett and Jasper patrolling the woods?”

“We all are,” Alice replied. “We picked up the scent near the crime scene and followed it up the Sol Duc River a few miles, but we lost her near Beaver. She must have swum upstream after that.”

“Wait, ‘she?’ How do you know this vampire is female---did you see her?”

Bella looked at me in surprise, her eyes popping wide at my words.

“Yes, but it was just like the last time---I saw her too late,” Alice continued. “As soon as I had the vision, we went out looking for her, but the damage was done. I’ve never seen her before around here. I’d remember if I had, because she had long, flaming red hair. Do you know anyone like that, Edward?”

“No, I don’t,” I answered, wracking my brain for the memory of any redheads. “What’s going on here, Alice? I thought you saw a male vampire attack Lauren.”

“I did. Maybe the two of them are working together, but if that’s the case, it’s strange that they wouldn’t be hunting together. Still, it’s too much of a coincidence for this to be unrelated. They can’t avoid us forever. We’re patrolling the forest day and night, a pair of us at a time, so at least nothing more will happen. And on the bright side, Edward, you’re in the clear now. There’s very little chance they’ll consider you a suspect now that you’ve been out of state during he second attack. So you can come back home and help us,” she concluded hopefully.

“Yeah, of course I will. I need to get Bella back to her father, too,” I said, giving her a sideways look. “I’m surprised he hasn’t called to check on her yet.”

Bella’s eyes grew wider, and she whispered, “My phone!” I watched as she raced up the stairs to my bedroom to retrieve it.

“Edward, there’s one thing I’m worried about,” Alice said quietly. “I want you to come back to us, but you have to promise me something.”

“Of course. What is it?”

“Don’t go with her,” she said in a foreboding voice. “The redhead. You don’t know her now, but you will.”

A chill ran down my already icy spine. “What are you talking about, Alice? What have you seen?”

“Nothing definite. I don’t know what she’s after yet, but she can’t be trusted. Don’t believe what she tells you. Don’t go with her,” she repeated.

“I don’t understand. Why would I ‘go with her?’ Do you really think I’d join forces with the vampire who’s been wreaking havoc all around Forks? Trust me, that’s the last thing you need to worry about.”

“I hope so. Just remember what I said, okay?” she said pensively. Then her tone changed and she asked, “So what’s the news on the home front? Have you made any cool discoveries about your past? Anything helpful? Any good memories?”

I laughed at her barrage of questions. “Yes, I have had some memories…some good, some bad. At least I know what my family and I were doing in Washington state, but I still don’t know how I ended up the way I did. I may never know, unless this redhead, or the other vampire, know something about what happened to me. I still get the feeling all of this is related somehow. You didn’t have any trouble with these nomads until after I showed up. I intend to get to the bottom of it, one way or another. I can promise you that.”

Bella bounded down the stairs, phone in hand, and sat down close to me on the sofa, her thigh touching mine. I would never tire of the heat that emanated from her right through my clothes. It made me want to wrap her around me and never let her go.

“Do you want me to make the flight arrangements for you guys tomorrow?” Alice asked expectantly.

“No, that’s fine, I’ll do it,” I answered. “I’ll let you know when to pick us up in Seattle. And be careful, okay?”

“Of course. I always patrol with Jazz, and Rosalie with Emmett. We’re fine. We just want to smoke these two out and figure out what they’re after. We don’t need any other vamps drawing attention to us. I don’t want to leave Forks yet---I like it here, and we have a least a few years left before anyone realizes we aren’t aging.”

“I know. I like it there too. I’ll call tomorrow, okay?”

“Sure. Oh, your flight will get into Seattle at 4:30 p.m. Perfect!” Alice suddenly exclaimed. I had to laugh at how random her visions were, even as I wished they were more consistent.

We said our good-byes while Bella checked her messages. Charlie had left a message while we downstairs, so she called him back after I filled her in on Alice’s news. Charlie confirmed that the victim had been an acquaintance of his, and he was pretty shaken up about it. He was worried about Bella and wanted her to come home. She assured him that she was fine at the Cullens, and would be back the next night. I could see by the guilty look on her face that she hated being dishonest with him.

“I’m sorry that you lied to your father for me,” I told her after she ended her phone conversation with him. “I shouldn’t have brought you here without him knowing.”

“I‘m the one who insisted on coming with you,” she reminded me. “Are you sorry I did?”

“No, of course not. I kind of like playing house with you. I think I could get used to it very easily,” I smiled, reaching out and smoothing her hair back from her face. “I don’t really want to give you back to Charlie.”

“How are we going to find time to be like this together?” she wondered, her expression sad. “I like being alone with you. That’s hardly ever going to happen when we go back to Forks.”

“Well, you’ll graduate next spring. Then we can figure something out. I can always move to wherever you go to college, if you want me to,” I offered. I couldn’t imagine why she would want such a thing. College was supposed to be a time for her to discover who she is, have fun and date around; not be tied to some old boyfriend, especially an undead one who can only come out at night.

“That’s eons from now,” she sighed. “And I don’t even know if I’m going to college. I’ve only applied to a handful of places. I don’t even know what I want to study.”

“You’ve got time to figure it out. Just do what makes you happy, Bella. And if I fit somewhere in that picture, then I will be a very lucky guy,” I said in understatement.

“What do you mean, if you fit somewhere in the picture? You are the picture, Edward,” she stated as if that were an obvious fact. “You are my future. I thought I made that clear to you.” And then suddenly, her voice faltered. “Unless you don’t want me in yours.”

“Of course I do,” I insisted. “You are all I’m existing for. But you deserve so much more out of life than that.”

“Do you think I deserve to be happy?” she asked pointedly.

I nodded in answer.

“Then don’t go anywhere,” she ordered. “You make me happy.”

I leaned in and kissed her tenderly, and the taste of her made my mouth water. I realized I would need to go hunting tonight. The burn in my throat from her scent was becoming difficult to ignore.

She stroked my hair thoughtfully and said, “I’m worried about this other vampire Alice saw. You’re sure it’s no one you’ve come across before?”

“No, I’m positive. I’d remember ‘flaming red hair,’ as Alice called it.”

“Not even from around here? I mean, what if there’s some connection to this place, or your life before? And that’s why she’s shown up around Forks?”

“I suppose it’s possible,” I shrugged, but I couldn’t imagine what the connection might be. “I wonder if she’s the one who made me. Or the other vampire, the one who killed Lauren,” I mused. “I’ve been wondering if they weren’t done with me yet, and now they’re back to take care of unfinished business.”

Bella looked alarmed. “What kind of business? Do you really think they have the answers you’ve been looking for?”

“I have no idea, but I hope they do. Either way, we’re going to figure out what’s going on. We’ll get them out of Forks, Bella. There’s no way they can stand up to a united front of vampires like the Cullens. They’ll have to back down.”

“I hope so,” she said, biting her lip. I didn’t want her to stew about this, so I changed the subject.

“I’m going to call and make some flight arrangements for us to go back to Forks tomorrow, okay? Why don’t you get packed and ready for bed---I have a feeling we might have to leave early in the morning,” I suggested. She nodded and disappeared upstairs while I called the airlines and booked our flight itinerary. Sure enough, our estimated arrival back in Seattle was at 5 p.m. But because of the time zone changes, we wouldn’t have to leave until 11 a.m. from Iowa. I was in no hurry to end my alone time with Bella. I would miss it more than she would, I was sure, since I didn’t even have the luxury of sleep to fill up some of the lonely hours.

Bella returned downstairs, still wearing my shirt. And I still liked how it looked on her. My face must have given away my thoughts because she said, “I know…I don’t want to take it off. Is that okay?” She pulled at the flannel collar uncertainly.

“Of course it is. I like you in my shirt, very much. Almost as much as I like you out of it.”

She grinned and plopped down next to me on the sofa, again snuggling up against me. “I like how it smells, yummy like you do.”

“I smell ‘yummy?’” I asked with a laugh.

“Yes, don’t you remember? I told you that that first night. In my truck. When I embarrassed myself completely by drunkenly coming on to you,” she reminded me, burying her face in my chest in mock humiliation.

“I remember that evening very well. Much better than you do, I’m sure,” I teased. “And I enjoyed your come-ons more than you will ever know.” I put my arm around her and kissed the top of her head, burying my face there for a moment.

“Alice said you would,” she laughed. “Is she ever wrong?”

“I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out.” I didn’t want to go back down this road, so I none-to-subtly changed the subject again. “Well, Ms. Swan, we have no TV and no stereo here. What would you like to do for entertainment the rest of the evening?”

Her eyebrow crooked suggestively, but then her face became animated. “Ooh! I found a guitar in your closet, Edward,” she exclaimed. “It must have been yours. Will you play something for me?”

I looked at her in surprise. I didn’t remember owning a guitar, but I had played one a few times in the FHS band room. “Well, I’ll try,” I said gamely, taking her hand and rising off the couch. She ran up the stairs, practically dragging me behind her, and then made a beeline for the closet. Thankfully a bedside lamp remained in my room, and I turned it on so that Bella could see. She emerged from the closet with an exultant look on her face, brandishing a beautiful Gibson Hummingbird guitar. As soon as I saw it, something went tight in my chest. She handed it to me and I grabbed its beautiful rosewood neck reverently, admiring the glossy sunburst finish and beautiful tortoise pick guard with its floral and hummingbird design.

“I begged my dad for this guitar for two years, and he always told me no, it was too expensive,” I whispered, the memories almost overwhelming as they rushed through my head. “On my sixteenth birthday, he hid it in the trunk of my car. I drove around all day not knowing it was in there. I went through my whole birthday party trying not to let on how disappointed I was that I didn’t get a guitar. And then Dad said, all nonchalant, ‘You’d better check the trunk of your car, son. I think you may have left something in there yesterday when you ran errands for you mother.’” I laughed and shook my head at the recollection. “I had no idea what he was talking about. And when I went to check?---This,” I smiled, putting the strap around my neck and giving the guitar a strum. It was woefully out of tune, so I sat down on the bed to tune the strings.

“That’s fantastic,” Bella said softly, her eyes shining in the lamplight. She sat next to me and watched for a moment as I played with the tuning, and then said, “I’m glad you finally had a memory of your dad, Edward.”

I smiled and nodded, exhilarated at the memories of my father, but heartsick over the loss at the same time. I noodled until the strings were all reasonably in tune, and then began to pick out a few chords. Bella sat cross-legged with her chin in her hands, her face rapt, as if watching me practice was the most fascinating thing she’d ever seen. Suddenly, a beautiful song popped into my head and flowed out of my fingers. A melody soon followed, and I sang the words to her, wondering if I could have ever guessed before what they would someday mean to me.

I dreamed you, I saw your face
Cut my lifeline, went drifting through space
I found an angel, I saw my fate
I can only thank God it was not too late

Over mountains I floated away
Across an ocean, I dreamed her name
I followed an angel down through the gates
I can only thank God it was not too late

Sing a little song of loneliness
Sing one to make me smile
Another round for everyone
I’m here for a little while

Now I’m walking this street on my own
But she’s with me everywhere I go
Yeah I found an angel, I found my place
I can only thank God it was not too late
I can only thank God it was not too late
I can only thank God it was not too late…

I finished and silence echoed through the room as Bella and I gazed at one another. Sometimes music could say what no words ever could.

“Did you write that?” she finally whispered.

“I wish I had. I’m pretty sure it’s an old Tom Petty song,” I admitted with a half-grin.

“Well, you played and sang it beautifully,” she said quietly. It’s weird, I’ve never heard you sing before, but your voice sounds so familiar to me.”

“Maybe you did hear me,” I told her. “I’ve sung to you before.”

Her forehead furrowed. “When?”

I hesitated, remembering her reaction to my admissions two scant nights ago. “When you were in the hospital,” I said at last.

She said nothing, just studied me for a moment. “You sang to me in my sleep?”

I nodded carefully. “I used to talk to you, too. Tell you stories. Pretend you might answer me.” Her eyes were filled with some emotion I couldn’t identify. “I just wanted you to get better.”

She shook her head slowly, still staring at me. “I used to wake up every morning feeling completely at peace. I could never figure out why I didn’t have nightmares…why I felt so calm instead. Happy, even.” Her eyes were wet with tears, and one rolled down her cheek as she reached out to touch me. “When I tell you I love you, it never seems like enough,” she said. “There aren’t any words to tell you how I feel.”

“Bella,” I whispered, pulling her close. I wiped the tear from her cheek as I pressed my forehead against hers. “You don’t have to use words. Just you being here with me means everything to me. It’s more than enough.”

She nodded and kissed me softly, her lips gentle and fragrant. My throat burned and my mouth was parched. I would need to feed, and soon. I pulled away from her, and she looked disappointed. I decided honesty was the best policy.

“I’m going to need to hunt tonight,” I told her, stroking her face. “I’ll go when you’re asleep; you won’t miss me. But your scent is getting to be almost too much for me.”

She leaned away from me instinctively at my words. “So you’re saying that I’m making you…hungry right now?”

“Well, you always make me hungry, but usually for other things,” I smiled gently. “I thought that the more I was around you, the more desensitized I would become. And that’s true, to an extent. But right now, I don’t trust myself with you.”

She looked stunned. “So you think you could…snap, or something?”

“No. No, I don’t mean that at all. I’d run out of this room at he speed of light before I’d ever harm you again. You can trust me on that score. I could never live through that hell again…what I did to you,” I insisted.

I wished desperately that I could read her thoughts, because the troubled look in her eyes could have far too many possible meanings. I sighed in frustration and looked at the clock; it was getting late.

“Why don’t you get some sleep?” I suggested. “I promise I’ll be back by daybreak.”

She looked dismayed. “Can’t you stay with me until I go to sleep, at least?”

“Sure. Of course,” I agreed. I got up and pulled back the covers, fluffing the one good pillow for Bella and flipping the torn one over to use for myself. She crawled into bed and I pulled the sheets and covers up around her, then lay next to her on top of the comforter, wrapping my arm around her waist. I snuggled my face next to hers, my nose buried in the strawberry scent of her hair, which was far less appetizing to me than the blood that rushed through her veins. “How’s this?” I asked her.

“Nice,” she replied, pulling her arm out from under the blankets and covering mine, her fingers hot on the back of my hand. We lay still for some time, and I concentrated on the sound of her breathing, waiting until it became deep and slow with sleep. I really had no desire to leave her, and if it weren’t for the insistent thirst that gnawed at my insides, I wouldn’t have. This was one of my fondest dreams: simply holding her while she slept, listening to her little murmurs and clicks of her tongue and sniffs of her nose. I lay with her longer than I should have, but finally gave in to my body’s demands and gently extricated myself from her arms, leaving the room and entering the hallway.

I paused when I got to the doorway of my parents’ room, then went inside. I looked around at the furnishings, recognizing them as vaguely familiar; but no solid memories came back to me at the sight of them. Some framed photos remained on the dresser, and I went to take a peek. There were a couple of the three of us as a family, one when I was a kid, and one more recent. There was a wedding photo, my mother looking stunning in a simple fitted white gown, my father handsome and happy in his gray suit. There were pictures of my grandparents, I presumed; but their smiling countenances did nothing to spark my recognition. The closet had already been emptied of their belongings. I wished there had been some clothing left behind so that I could have breathed their scents.

I headed downstairs and out the patio door into the frigid night air. There were plenty of deer in the woods behind the housing development, and I sprinted quickly through the trees, following my nose until it led me to a small herd. I made quick work of a doe who didn’t get away quick enough. I wondered what Bella would think if she saw me in action, gulping down blood from the snapped neck of a wild animal. She hadn’t even seen me kill the bear yesterday, her eyes squeezed shut in terror. I had wanted to drink the animal’s blood, but I didn’t want her to see me that way---a beast in my own right. She had no idea what she was asking of me when she begged me to consider making her a vampire---no idea what she would be condemning herself to.

I drained the doe until I was overflowing, then loped off in search of a stream. I vaguely remembered where one was located and set off in that direction. I finally heard the running water and found the creek, then washed the blood from my face and hands. I’d become fairly skilled at keeping it off of my clothes, but I wanted to make sure that I was clean before I headed back to the house.

Don’t want to scare her with the truth, now, do you?

I bolted upright and looked around. I heard the words in my head, but they weren’t mine. It was a voice I’d never heard before. I looked around cautiously, but only birds and small rodents were in the vicinity. I took a deep breath and caught a faint odor that was distinctly…vampire. With a start I realized it reminded me of the scent I’d picked up near the place where Lauren had been killed. Surely he hadn’t followed me here, had he? Wouldn’t I have heard his thoughts and intentions somewhere along the way, in an airport or here in town? But the truth was, I had already become good at blocking out the droning sound caused by dozens of minds in crowded places, their busy thoughts becoming so much background noise. It’s possible I could have missed this one voice altogether, especially when it was the voice of a stranger.

“Who are you?” I called out into the stillness. No reply. “I know you’re here. Show yourself!”

Dead leaves whispered in the breeze, nothing more. I inhaled deeply again and took a few steps in the direction of his scent. It was impossible to know how recently he was here; that is, if he really was here and my mind wasn’t just playing tricks on me. I couldn’t imagine why some unknown vampire would follow me all the way to my hometown. To what end? What did he want from me? Frustration fueling me, I continued following his odor, determined to get some answers. I jogged fruitlessly through miles of forest before I finally gave up the search. I heard no more voices, and the scent grew faint. Whatever he was doing here, it seemed he was intent on playing games with me awhile longer. He wasn’t ready to tip his hand. The sun was beginning to come up, and I decided I should get back to---

BELLA. Sudden terror knifed through me. What if this was just a ruse to keep me away from her long enough for him to…. I couldn’t finish the thought. I turned and raced like the wind back to the house, my only thought a frantic prayer that she was safe. It took mere minutes, but each one felt like an eternity as I tried not to imagine the worst. I leapt up on the deck and wrenched open the patio door, barely taking time to slam it shut behind me as I bounded for the stairs. I flew into my bedroom, took one look at my bed and nearly fell to my knees. It was empty. My eyes frantically swept the room--no sign of her was there, other than her duffel bag on the floor.

“Bella!” I howled at the top of my voice, like a madman completely unhinged. I stumbled into the hallway and looked around wildly. Just as I noticed a crack of light coming from under the bathroom door, I heard Bella’s muffled voice call out: “Edward? I’m in the shower.”

An agony of relief flooded me as I burst through the bathroom door. “Are you all right?” I asked, trying not to sound like a complete lunatic. I didn’t want her to know what had just happened; I didn’t want her to worry needlessly. I would protect her from now on.

“Yeah, I’m fine. I couldn’t sleep so I just decided to get up.” She opened the shower door a crack and poked her wet head out. “Do you want to join me?” she asked with grin that was equal parts shy and suggestive.

I stood looking at her for a moment, still panting, more from fear than exertion. Then I threw my coat on the floor, kicked my shoes off and strode to the shower door. I yanked it open and stepped inside, still fully dressed, and pulled Bella’s naked body against me. I grasped her surprised face in my hands, looked deeply into her eyes and said, “I will never lose you. You need to know that. I won’t live without you.” She opened her lips to reply and I covered them with a desperate, hungry kiss. I kissed her until she gasped for breath; then I pushed her against the shower wall and kissed her harder, my hands roaming down her body, fingers memorizing every curve and hollow. The water from the shower beat on my back, soaking my clothes, making them heavy and hot against my skin. Bella began unbuttoning my shirt; I yanked it over my head instead and threw it over the shower door. She ran her hands up and down my chest and stomach, looking quizzically up into my needy eyes.

“What happened out there?” she asked, stroking my face. As always, I felt calm begin to return as her fingers trailed along my jaw.

“Nothing,” I lied, closing my eyes, unable to look at her. “I just realized I won’t get to do this tomorrow. Lie with you while you’re sleeping. Shower with you in the morning. Make love to you whenever I want to,” I sighed longingly, pressing my naked torso against hers.

“We’ll find a way. We have to,” she murmured, wrapping her arms around my neck and kissing me again and again. “I won’t live without you, either.”

I couldn’t stand the feel of my soaked jeans any longer, and I unbutton and unzipped them quickly, pushing them down and kicking them to the corner of the large stand-up shower. I gazed at Bella’s pale, glistening body and was reminded of how she looked in the pool under the moonlight. She was just as luscious here, in the white glow of the bathroom fixtures, every freckle and perfect imperfection on display. There was no part of her that I didn’t want to know like the back of my hand; no part I didn’t want to explore completely with eyes, my fingers and my mouth. I began kissing her neck, her shoulders, her arms; she moaned softly and her head fell back to give me access to the hollow of her throat. I moved down to her breasts, stroking each perfect teardrop and tasting each nipple until it was hard and quivering under my tongue. She cried out and her fingers clutched my hair as I moved down her creamy stomach with my lips, my hands caressing her hips as I fell to my knees before her. I kissed and nipped gently at her abdomen and her thighs as my hands squeezed the firm round flesh of her ass.

“Edward,” she moaned, her fingers combing through my hair. Her back arched, pushing her pussy toward my hungry mouth. I pulled her right leg over my shoulder, opening her up and exposing her wet, pink folds. I ran my tongue up and down them, savoring the feel of her delicate flesh; then flicked it quickly over her clit until she whimpered loudly, clutching my hair harder. My tongue found her opening and probed deeper, as I memorized the heady flavor of her cream. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to touch her, feel her, taste her as if it were the last time. I didn’t know what was waiting for us back in Forks. But right here, right now, was ours.

I couldn’t get enough of her, my hands exploring every inch of her skin, my mouth teasing and devouring her sex until her moans were loud and reckless. Her hands gripped my shoulders and her hips began to spasm, her orgasm shaking her from head to toe. I continued massaging and kissing her as she came down from her climax; I didn’t want to stop or let go of her.

She stroked my face gently, willing me to look up at her. I let her leg fall and slowly rose to my feet, my eyes locked with hers. I wanted to tell her how beautiful she was, and how amazing it made me feel to give her such ecstasy. Words failed me and I tried to convey it all with my eyes, wishing that for once we could both read each other’s minds and know, without a doubt, just what the other meant to us.

“My turn,” she whispered, reaching up and kissing my chin while her hands traced the outline of my neck and down my shoulders. She proceeded to kiss and caress her way down my body, coaxing all the same sounds of pleasure out of me that she had just emitted moments ago. She licked and gently bit my nipples; she kissed and massaged each abdominal muscle; she combed her fingers back and forth through the strip of hair on my belly down to my groin. I could only groan in frustration as her lips and fingers wandered down my thighs and squeezed my ass. My throbbing erection was pointing right at gorgeous face by the time she slowly opened her mouth and ran her tongue along the underside, up to the head. She grasped my cock in her hand and twirled her tongue all around the ridge at the tip, then pressed it into the tiny opening. She tickled it mercilessly with the tip of her tongue, and just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, she slid her lips over the head and halfway down my shaft, taking me deep in her mouth. I gasped loudly as the sensation wracked my body, bracing my hands on the shower wall behind her to steady myself.

She continued to work her hand and her mouth up and down my cock, changing the speed from slow to quick, gently massaging my scrotum, and making me lose my mind in the process. I groaned as she took each ball in her mouth and sucked on them one at a time while she pumped my shaft with her hand. I began to feel like I might come, but then she slipped her free hand behind my balls and pressed her thumb firmly up into the flesh there, sending an electric shockwave through me that stopped my ejaculation in its tracks.

“God, Bella,” I rasped as she took me in her mouth again. My dick felt strained to the snapping point as she stroked and sucked it with one hand while the other continued to massage my perineum, sending sensations through me that were so intense they were almost unbearable. I began whimpering like a caged animal, begging for release. Finally she eased the pressure behind my balls and began rapidly pumping my head in her hand, and I could feel the exquisite pressure building. She took me deep in her mouth again and I couldn’t stop my hips from thrusting gently, pushing the head of my cock repeatedly between her lips and over her hot, wet tongue. She gagged slightly when I pushed too deep, and I felt guiltily aroused at the sound of it.

“Bella, I’m going to come,” I warned her hoarsely in between moans, knowing I was about to lose all control.

She stopped long enough to look up at me and say, “Good. I want to taste you.” And I was lost in her mouth again, her hand pumping my orgasm out of me as I convulsed and shot straight down the back of her throat. She swallowed as quickly as she could, the feel of it nearly sending me out of my mind; but cum still filled her mouth and washed back over my twitching cock. She continued swallowing and then began licking me clean, while I made gasping, whimpering noises, completely stunned at what she had just done to me. I considered it a miracle I hadn’t driven my hands right through the shower walls, my climax had been so intense.

I was unable to speak for several minutes. I watched my beautiful girl lap every bit of semen off of me as if it were the best dessert she’d ever tasted. Her hands trailed up and down my hips and thighs, grazing my skin softly and leaving warm tingles that would have made me hard again if I weren’t completely spent. She rose slowly, kissing her way up my belly and to my chest. I wound my hands through her hair and tilted her head back to look up at me.

“You are amazing,” I whispered, staring at her in wonder. “You didn’t have to do that at the end, you know.”

“I wanted to. I told you, I wanted to taste you. I want you in every way possible, Edward. Every bit of you,” she said, sliding her arms around my waist.

“You have me. Always.” I kissed her gently, then shook my head and asked, “You have to tell me though…where did you learn to do that thing with your thumb?”

She giggled and the blush I adored tinged her cheeks. “I read it in Alice’s Cosmo magazine.”

I chuckled in spite of myself and remarked, “Women’s magazines give you girls sex tips like that? Wow…lucky men. Lucky me,” I corrected. She smiled and buried her face in my chest while I stroked her long, wet hair. She shivered slightly, and I realized that I was the one with hot water hitting his back while she clung to my corpse-like skin. I turned us slowly around so the warm stream showered over her instead of me.

“Who’s going to get the bill for this?” Bella suddenly wondered aloud. “I mean, how much hot water have we wasted already?”

I laughed that this would concern her---that someone else would have to pay for our recklessness. “Relax, water’s not metered here. It’s billed by the room or something. We can run it all day if we want to. And why I remember details like that instead of the important stuff, I’ll never know,” I added in irritation.

“Well, I’m glad you remembered all the things you did this weekend. I think this trip was worth it, don’t you?” she asked.

“In more ways than one,” I answered with a grin.

I pushed us both directly under the water and soaked us completely while Bella laughed. We decided maybe we should actually bathe before we left for the airport, so we took turns using Bella’s shower sponge and gel to soap each other from head to toe. In some ways, that simple act was even more intimate than the sex we’d just shared. I felt as if I were memorizing her every hair, every mole, every freckle as I had wanted to do when I first saw her naked body in this shower stall. She let me shampoo her hair even though she had already done it earlier. Taking care of her felt like an honor, a privilege that I wasn’t sure I could ever earn, but would be grateful for every day of my existence.

She returned the favor for me, and I wished she didn’t look so awed as she sponged me slowly up and down, giving me shivers everywhere she touched. She often appraised me like I was a statue in a museum, and it only served to remind me how far-removed I was from human now. I knew she found me beautiful and desirable, which I had to admit I enjoyed; but I also wished she found me warm and huggable, an improbability at best.

My melancholy persisted as we reluctantly turned the shower off, stepped out into the steamy bathroom and wrapped ourselves up in some towels that were luckily still tucked away in the hall closet. I picked up my wet clothes from the shower and told Bella I needed to throw them in the dryer downstairs.

I quickly inspected the house after finding the washer and dryer in the otherwise empty basement. There were no signs that anyone other than Bella and I had been in this house; no telltale scents other than our own and those of my relatives from the day before. I still felt uneasy at the idea that another vampire might be lurking outside, watching, waiting. For what? Why not just confront me? Maybe he was trying to drive me around the bend, but for what reason, I couldn’t fathom. I gritted my teeth and decided to make the best of the short time I had left with Bella. She was my number one concern, and as long as I was with her, she’d be safe.

When I returned to the bathroom, I found Bella brushing her teeth in front of the mirror, which was completely fogged over save for one small spot that she’d wiped down with the side of her hand. The towel on her head looked like a giant turban, while the one around her body barely covered her backside. I watched appreciatively as it bounced slightly with the rhythm of her arm while she brushed. I found myself getting hard again already just looking at the muscles in the backs of her thighs leading up to the perfect rear view I knew was hiding under that towel. When she bent over the sink to rinse and spit, I caught a glimpse of the promised land.

I walked up behind her and leaned over, my face next to hers in the mirror. “Do you know what I’m thinking about right now?” I murmured in her ear. She took a deep breath and shook her head. I took hold of the towel wrapped around her head and began to unwind it, letting her hair fall in wet waves down her shoulders. “I’m thinking about the first night you came to Jake’s and I gave you a pool lesson.”

I took her hair towel and leaned past her, wiping down the mirror so that our reflections were clear. We stared at one another in the glass as I fondled her wet locks between my fingers. “Do you remember that night?” I whispered, running the tips of my fingers lightly down her arm.

“Of course I do,” she replied, her voice hushed. I gazed at her reflection as she bit her lip, turning it bright pink.

“You looked so beautiful…almost as beautiful as you look right now,” I told her, continuing my gentle exploration of her arm and shoulder. “You can’t imagine the things that were going through my mind that night.”

“You might be surprised,” she countered, her lungs filling sharply as I changed directions and dragged my fingertips across her back, right above the edge of the towel covering her body. “Maybe I was imagining the same things you were.”

“You think so?” I breathed into her ear, my lips grazing the side of her face. She nodded and took another quick intake of breath as I pressed my body closer to hers. I couldn’t take my eyes off of our reflection, and her eyes looked as mesmerized by our image as mine were. “What were you imagining, Bella?”

Her labored breathing continued and she looked as if she were mustering her courage. “What it would feel like…to be with you like this,” she whispered, her looking glass eyes glued to mine.

“Like what, exactly?” I teased, my lip twitching in a tiny smirk that I quickly smothered. She was too quick for me, and the glint in her eye proved she caught my grin.

She arched her hips and pressed her ass firmly against my groin. “What do you think?”

I sighed heavily as I grasped her towel-covered hips and ground her harder against me. “Ms. Swan, are you trying to tell me that you were actually fantasizing about me taking you from behind over the pool table in front of all your friends?” My wicked gaze was matched by hers in the glass before us.

“Everything except that last part,” she replied smoothly. “I can do without the audience.” She began moving her hips back and forth a little, pushing into me.

“The only ones watching us right now are those two,” I murmured in her ear, nodding my head toward our reflections. “She’s gorgeous, but he looks like kind of a freak.”

She rolled her eyes slightly at me and replied, “You know what they say about those freaks.”

“Hmm-mmm, what do they say?” I nuzzled my face into her neck.

“They make the best lovers.” She put her hands over mine and grasped my fingers, pulling my arms around her. She ran her fingers up and down my forearms, lightly pulling at the hair growing there and making goose bumps rise on my hard flesh.

“Is that so?” I mused, loving how she was playing along with my game. I would never tire of this girl, nor cease to be surprised at how she rose to a challenge. “Maybe we should put that theory to the test.”

I pulled one arm free from hers and slid it under her towel, over one cheek. I gave it a firm squeeze and rubbed my growing hard-on against her, reasonably sure she could feel it even through our bath towels.

“Well, I guess I’ll never really know, because I don’t plan to compare him to anyone else,” she nodded at my reflection, entwining her fingers around my hand that remained around her waist. “I’m kind of a one-freak woman,” she grinned.

I chuckled and continued to rub her hip under the towel. I looked at my face in the mirror and joked, “You are one very lucky S.O.B, you know that?” Except it wasn’t a joke. It was true. My smile faded and I kissed her face, her neck, her shoulder. I let go of her hip and tugged at the edge of her towel, freeing her breasts as it fell a few inches. I stared shamelessly at them in the mirror, then reached up with my other hand and caressed them one by one. I thrilled to the sound of her heart beginning to race and her breath growing shallow. I yanked at the edge of the towel again and it pulled apart where she had knotted it, then fell to the floor.

Both hands free, I traced them slowly down the front of her body, her eyes following my fingers in the mirror. I worked her nipples with my thumbs and she leaned back, her shoulder blades hard and hot on my chest. She lifted her arms up and grasped my shoulders, her back arching, her breasts pressing into my hungry hands. Her green eyes were sultry and dark as she watched me in the mirror, apparently enjoying this show as much as I was. I slid my hands down her ribs, into the hollow of her waist, over the smooth plane of her belly and down to the small triangle of hair below. She gripped my shoulders tighter as I slid my fingers between her thighs, probing the flesh there. Sighing, she tilted her pelvis toward my hands, letting me explore her better. Finally her eyes closed and her head fell back against my chest, a low moan escaping her lips.

Her ass pressed insistently against me, and I looked down at its perfect roundness. I stopped what I was doing and dropped to my knees behind her, grabbing each cheek in my hands and massaging her firm, soft flesh. Each buttock was punctuated with one large, very sexy dimple at the top, right below the curve of her waist. I explored the dimples thoroughly with my tongue before moving to middle, slowly making my way down. There was no part of her I didn’t want to know intimately, and I spread her cheeks apart with my hands while my mouth worked its way over every orifice, back to front, and back again. Her cries of pleasure were more than enough reward, her arching back and spreading legs an invitation to continue.

Finally the scent of her dripping sex was too much for my aching member to ignore any further. I stood and dropped the towel from my waist, and Bella’s eyes met mine briefly in the mirror before drifting down to my erection. She was already leaning on her hands over the counter, her face now close to the glass. I stood close behind her and leaned over her, pressing the length of my body against hers in nearly the exact pose from those weeks ago in the pool hall.

“Tell me what you want, Bella,” I whispered into her ear. My breath fogged the glass briefly before the moisture dissipated. I wanted to hear her say the words. I needed to know that she wanted me as much as I wanted her.

“I want you,” she replied, her voice thick, her breath coming fast.

“How do you want me, Bella?” I teased, pressing my erection against her backside. “What do you want me to do to you?”

She groaned, looked my reflection in the eyes and said, “I want you to fuck me.”

I was startled by her frank reply, but only for a moment. I slid my cock between her cheeks and pushed it back and forth, savoring the feel of her wet heat. I pushed the tip slowly into the opening of her pussy, then stopped.

“Like this?” I asked in mock innocence, unable to stop myself from teasing her a bit more.

“Yes,” she replied in a exasperated moan. “I’m glad you find this amusing.”

I grinned briefly and said, “On the contrary. I find it very arousing. I can’t read your mind, you know. You have to tell me what you want.”

She shook her head slightly, then replied flippantly, “Fine. I want you to slide your cock inside me as deep as it will go, and then slide it in and out a bunch more times, faster and faster, until we both come. How’s that?”

I smirked at her sarcastic tone and replied, “Thanks for the refresher course. Let’s see how that works, shall we?” And with one long, smooth thrust, I plunged my cock inside her to the hilt.

I was immediately sorry for my actions, because her cry of pain temporarily destroyed the mood. I was suddenly reminded that this was only the third time she’d done this, and her vagina was incredibly tight from this angle. What felt mind-blowingly amazing to me was still bordering on uncomfortable for her.

“I’m sorry,” I cringed, stroking her hair and covering her face and shoulder with soft kisses. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I promise I won’t do that again.”

She shook her head, her frustrated eyes meeting my guilty ones in the mirror. “No, don’t apologize. I wanted this. I want you like this. It’s just…a little overwhelming.”

“I’m going to make this better for you, I promise,” I assured her. I ran my hands slowly, gently up and down her body, massaging her, relaxing her. I stayed inside her, letting her get used to the feel of our bodies joined together this way. I stroked her hips up and down, slowly moving against her, pumping in and out of her a little at a time. Her body gradually began to respond, moving in tandem with mine. I reached around and massaged her clit gently with my fingers and she sighed appreciatively, her eyes closing and her back arching instinctively. She moaned as my thrusts grew longer, deeper, quicker. She felt so amazing that I wanted to come, but I knew she was nowhere near ready.

I stopped for a moment, withdrawing from her. She looked at me curiously in the mirror. I smiled softly and said, “I want to try something.” I stood upright, then reached down and ran my hand down the inside of her thigh. I pulled on it gently, lifting it up. I placed her knee up on the counter, opening her up wide. Her gorgeous pink pussy was on display in the mirror, and she looked a bit shocked at first at the sight of herself like this.

“You don’t even realize how beautiful you are, do you,” I murmured, running my hand down the side of her body, over her hip and down to her throbbing sex. I stroked it up and down while she watched in the mirror, biting her lip, her breathing ragged. “You need to see how beautiful you are. What you do to me. How much I want you.” I grasped my dick and began rubbing the head along her folds and back against her swollen opening. The sight of our sex reflected back at us seemed to magnify every feeling of love and lust I had for this girl tenfold. I couldn’t hold back and I slid my cock inside her, this time slowly pushing upward in gentle thrusts. To my surprise, she reached down and began touching herself, massaging her clit and sliding her fingers around my cock as I pumped more deeply into her.

“Bella, that feels incredible,” I sighed. And watching her do it was even more enticing. My eyes met hers in the mirror, and I saw total trust and passion there. I turned her face to mine and drank in her expression as she gazed up at me. I kissed her deeply, lovingly, hungrily. I began to feel desperation creep back into me; a nagging feeling that I should cherish this fleeting moment.

She reached her hand up to the side of my face and kept it there, her other hand grasping the towel rack next to her to brace herself as I rammed my cock into her. To me, they felt like gentle strokes; but the resounding slap of my skin meeting hers, and the quivers that shook her body, proved that my thrusts had a stronger impact than I could perceive.

I slowed for a moment, breathing heavily, searching her eyes in the glass again for some kind of clue as to what she was feeling. To my relief, she looked dismayed. “Don’t stop, Edward. I’m close,” she gasped.

I kissed her face, clutched her to me and thrust into her hard and deep. She moaned loudly and I continued, plunging into her as recklessly as I dared, fucking her, branding her, making her mine. In the mirror were two rutting animals, all inhibitions and constraints abandoned; and it was more beautiful than I ever could have imagined, watching them come together, crying out each other’s names. No one who saw us in this moment could deny that we were one flesh, one soul. I felt it almost as strongly as the day I drank her blood: that we were inseparable. That I would carry a part of her with me always.

We said nothing for several minutes, just gazed at each other in the mirror; enraptured, dazed, spent. Finally she took her knee off of the counter and winced slightly, as if her body were stiff. I gently turned her to me and lifted her up on the countertop, cradling her in my arms and kissing her softly on the cheeks, nose and mouth.

“I don’t want to leave,” she finally sighed, wrapping her arms and legs around me and holding me close.

I rocked her gently and squeezed her tight. “We are going to be together, Bella,” I assured her. “We’ll figure it out. I promise.”

I didn’t know how I’d ever keep that promise, but I had to find a way. Anything else was unthinkable to me.

I reluctantly left the bathroom so Bella could dry her hair and finish getting ready. I went to my room and got dressed, packed up my duffle bag and took one last glance around at the remnants of Edward Masen. I wouldn’t take any souvenirs with me. What was done, was done. As I turned to leave the room, my eye spied the Hummingbird leaning in the corner. I regarded it a moment, then retrieved it and went to the closet in search of its case. Perhaps this was one remembrance of my former self that I could afford to take with me. Music was too much a part of me to deny myself this one last gift from the loving parents I’d been forced to leave behind.

“Are you going to take the guitar?” Bella’s voice came from the doorway. Her face was hopeful.

“Yeah. Might as well,” I said with a half-smile.

“You should. It belongs to you. You deserve to keep it,” she said. “Maybe you can teach me how to play, too.”

“You want to learn?” I grinned.

“Yeah! I love music. I’d rather be your back-up musician than your groupie,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t sing, though. You’re on your own there.”

“I think I can teach you to sing, too,” I told her as I approached. “Don’t sell yourself short.”

Her expression grew more serious. “I won’t,” she replied.

I gave her a peck on the lips and told her I was going to take my things downstairs and call a cab while she finished packing. After the phone call, I took one last look around this house that still had only a vague feeling of home to me. The memories of my time with Bella here would be the most vivid and cherished ones I would carry with me from now on.

I sat down at the piano and played a little, and for a moment I could almost feel my mother’s presence beside me…could hear her telling me the names of the chords as I struck them. I suspected that the twinge of regret I felt was only the tip of an iceberg of pain that lurked within me, should I ever fully remember. I was actually grateful for the amnesia that crippled my ability to feel the full weight of that loss.

I looked up at last to find Bella sitting on the sofa, watching me quietly. “I’ll never get tired of listening to you play,” she said.

“I’ll remind you of that in about 50 years when you’re telling me to stop making that infernal racket,” I joked.

“I’ll be an old woman in 50 years,” she said crossly.

“That’s exactly my point,” I answered. “You’ll be cranky and sick to death of me.”

She didn’t laugh, and I knew why. I sighed heavily, knowing there was no solution to this impasse, at least not right now. “Please, Bella. We have some time to figure that out.”

She nodded and got up off the couch, picking up her bag and heading for the door. I picked up my things and followed her, giving the house, and the Masens, a soft “good-bye” under my breath as we stepped outside into the gray morning. I was thankful for the cloud cover that kept my secret. I inhaled deeply, subconsciously searching for any scents that signaled a threat. Only the clean, crisp Iowa air filled my lungs. Maybe I had imagined the whole thing earlier this morning. Maybe the volatile situation that faced me in Forks was just making me paranoid.

Our taxi arrived shortly, and we took our first flight to Des Moines without incident, the small plane behaving perfectly this calm morning. By the time our second flight had arrived in Denver, Bella had taught me how to play Hangman, figure out my numerology chart by my birth date and name, and tie a knot in a cherry stem with my tongue. Actually, I never did figure out that last one, but I was highly impressed with Bella’s skill at doing so with the cherry that came in her virgin daiquiri on the plane. I also understood a little better how she’d managed the superior oral skills that she had performed on me that morning, and I was more than a little appreciative.

Our 70-minute layover in Denver meant that Bella could enjoy a nice meal in one of the airport restaurants, and that I could enjoy watching her. I sat blissfully with my chin propped on my hand across the table from her while she masticated her oriental salad with gusto.

Finally she stopped and gave me an annoyed look. “You were right. You are a freak.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who had a hamster named Stinky when I was seven,” I countered, referring to a round of Twenty Questions we’d played on the plane.

“Okay, so he had a little flatulence problem, but he was adorable!” she insisted, laughing in spite of herself. “He deserved love like every other living creature does.”

My smile became rueful. “So you’ve always been good at picking up strays, huh? Rooting for the underdog.”

She gave a soft snort. “Edward, you’re hardly an underdog.”

“Hey, wasn’t that a cartoon superhero? Like when our parents were kids? ‘There’s no need to fear…Underdog is here!’” I chuckled, wondering where that memory came from.

“Oh my gosh, I think you’re right,” Bella exclaimed with a laugh. “That little Shoeshine Boy character, right? Who turned into a superhero whenever his girlfriend was in trouble. What was her name?” She thought for a moment. “Polly Purebred! That’s it,” she laughed. She smiled at me for a moment. “Yeah, that is you.” She took a long sip of her strawberry lemonade. “You’re not much of a shoeshine boy, though.”

“That’s okay. You’re not much of a Pollyanna either. Thank God.” I quirked a suggestive eyebrow at her and her cheeks turned a delicious shade of pink. Then she looked a little sad and dropped her eyes, picking at her salad. “What is it, Bella?” I asked her. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m just wondering how I’m going to sleep without you there tonight,” she said. “I don’t sleep well when you’re gone. I have nightmares.”

“You didn’t tell me that,” I replied, feeling guilty about the times I’d left her this weekend. “Why didn’t you say something? I would have stayed with you.”

She shrugged and chewed for a moment. “It’s fine. I knew you needed to go hunting that second time. It’s no big deal.”

I thought back to the way she’d thrown her arms around me when I returned last night---as if she were relieved that I was back. “You had a nightmare last night, didn’t you? Why didn’t you tell me? I wouldn’t have left you in the house alone again. I could have toughed it out.”

“Don’t be silly,” she scoffed, but her expression didn’t match her tone. “It was just a dream, I’m sure. Nothing more.”

Clearly, it was something more. My inability to read her mind had never been so aggravating to me as it was in this moment. “Bella, please. Tell me what’s going on.”

Her forehead crinkled into a worried V as she laid her salad fork down. “I’m sure it was nothing. Forget it, Edward, okay?”

This, of course, made me want to know even more desperately what her dream had been. Obviously it had disturbed her and she’d kept it from me. Why? “No,” I refused her. “If it bothered you this much, I think you need to tell me what you dreamt.”

She took a deep breath, looked me in the eyes and said, “I dreamed you killed Lauren.”

My stunned eyes searched hers for a deeper truth. Did she believe the dream? Her subconscious was telling her I was guilty. Did the rest of her believe it?

“You saw me kill her? In your dream?” I asked, my voice raw.

She shook her head. “No. You were…crouched over her body. Holding it.” She stopped and bit her lip, her worried eyes seeming fearful of my reaction. “You had…blood…all over you. And you weren’t yourself. It looked like you, but it wasn’t you. Your eyes had no soul. No conscience.” Her voice faltered, and her eyes fell. My gut plummeted as well. If the dream image had shaken her this much, then there was part of her that still believed it was true.

“Bella, do you think I would lie to you?” I asked. “Do you think I lied to you about killing Lauren?” I dreaded the answer. My mind was spinning.

She shook her head adamantly. “No. I know you wouldn’t. The Edward I know would never lie, never turn on me.” She paused, and my stomach twisted in knots as I sensed she wasn’t finished. “What worries me is…what if there’s an Edward I don’t know?”

I blinked at her, not comprehending her words. “What do you mean…an Edward you don’t know? I’ve shown you everything, given you everything, confessed everything. There’s nothing else, I swear. I know I was dishonest with you, but that’s over. There are no more secrets. You know everything.”

She pursed her lips together and gave me a tense, worried gaze. “Edward…what if you don’t know everything?” she whispered. “What if your amnesia isn’t just in the past…what if it’s in the present, too?”

I stared at her in complete confusion. “I don’t understand what you’re saying, Bella.”

She sighed heavily and ran her hand through her hair, her eyes unable to meet mine. Finally she looked up at me and said, “What if you’ve done things as a vampire that you don’t remember? Is it possible that you--sort of--black out? And don’t remember things that you’ve done? Things that you don’t want to remember?”

I leaned back in my seat, my eyes dazed as the slow dawn of understanding crept over me. She thought I was crazy. That I had an unconscionable Mr. Hyde lurking under my gentle Dr. Jeckyll exterior, waiting to unleash his fangs at any moment. I almost laughed at the sick justice of it all. Why wouldn’t she suspect such a thing? I had certainly given her suspicions just cause, from the moment I met her. Of course her subconscious had resurrected the monster. It was trying to protect her.

I shook my head and chuckled at the sad, twisted situation I’d fooled myself into thinking was resolved. How could I ever hope to gain her trust? It was a fool’s errand. And I was a fool who was so in love that he’d go to any length, tell himself any fairytale, in order to believe that he could right a wrong that could never be righted.

And still, my lips persisted in trying to salvage the tenuous bonds I’d forged with Bella. My self-preservation instincts were apparently as strong as hers.

“Bella…I don’t sleep,” I reminded her. “Ever. I’ve been conscious every single moment since I woke up in the woods almost two months ago. I remember every single thing that’s happened, every single thing I’ve done. What you’re suggesting is impossible.”

She looked relieved. Her conscious wanted to fool her, too. It wanted what it knew was wrong for her. “I know, it’s crazy. Forget it. It was just a dream. I mean, now that Alice saw this new vampire, we know you’re innocent, right? You’re in the clear. And even though I know you’re worried about the redhead, I can’t help but be glad that she made it okay for you to come home with me.” She reached out and grasped my cold hand in her molten one, giving it a reassuring squeeze. I nodded and smiled, but could muster no other words. Every part of me was in a tailspin. Without Bella’s trust, what, exactly, did her professions of love mean? Was this why she was so desperate for me to turn her into a vampire? So that she’d no longer have to fear ending up like Lauren?

Our flight to Seattle felt long, and yet ended far too soon. Bella sensed my withdrawal and pretended to sleep on my shoulder, but her breathing never matched her sounds of slumber that I knew so well. Alice and Jasper met us in the airport with hugs and smiles, and regaled us with stories of their weekend patrols in search of the nomad vamps during the drive to Forks. I wondered if Bella believed any of their tales, or if she secretly thought that there was only one vampire, the female, and that I was actually the other villain. Maybe she even thought I was the one who had killed the teenaged boy on the east side of the Olympia Forest last week.

Bella begged me to walk her to the door when we got to Charlie Swan’s house at twilight. She looked up at me expectantly, her hand on the doorknob, her back to the door. I leaned down slowly, memorizing every freckle on her nose, every eyelash framing her dusky green eyes, every curve of her lips. I kissed her tenderly, longingly, deeply; savoring the taste of her tongue against mine. She was delicious, perfect. She was heaven. It felt like a kiss good-bye.

Because the doubt that was destroying me wasn’t hers. It was mine.

What if Bella was right?

A live version of Tom Petty's Angel Dream is here.
I'd love to hear Rob perform that song. :)


  1. He didn't leave her!!! Oh wow, in so many ways he didn't leave her!! You are amazing!!!!!!! Great chapter. Hot chapter. I need a very cold shower!!

  2. No...would Edward ever leave Bella? At least not in this chapter...;) I did get a little carried away with the lemons though. LOL! But the angst is a comin' so I thought I'd give 'me a little honeymoon....

  3. OMG! I'm in love this. I can't even sleep. When will you post the next chapterS. And please don't make Edward leave Bella. It would be heart breaking. I think, I would literally die. =(

  4. Hi glad you like my fic! I am working on Chapter 13 right now. I'd love to get it finished tomorrow but I doubt that will happen. I should have it done within a week, though, I hope!

  5. I am loving this story so much! Among the things I loved about this chapter: …the wonderful dialog [internal and spoken] E/B…. the beautifully detailed, lemony love scenes (translation: sofa king HOT!)…. and that hilarious reference to Bella’s ability to tie a knot in a cherry stem with her tongue …(LOL!) Looking forward to future installments. Thank you for sharing your writing talents with us!!